Corruption At Brown U: Lowering Standards Of Evidence For Sexual Assault
Via John Leo, KC Johnson writes of the fallout from dialing back standards of evidence from sexual assault accusations, and Brown Spectator editor Ryan Fleming's story of how young men are denied due process and have their lives turned upside down or ruined because of it. Johnson explains:
As university after university follows the OCR's mandate to lower the threshold for evaluating campus sexual assault claims--and thereby to increase the likelihood of convictions from false accusations--it's worth keeping in mind cases in which even the pre-"Dear Colleague" procedure broke down. Caleb Warner's is one such case; William McCormick's is another.
I've written about the McCormick case previously; the then-Brown freshman was accused first of sexual harassment and then sexual assault by Marcella Dresdale, daughter of Richard Dresdale, a major Brown donor who founded Fenway Partners, a $2.1 billion equity firm. Richard Dresdale appeared to have improperly influenced Brown administrators--who aggressively moved to get rid of McCormick before he even encountered Brown's accuser-friendly disciplinary system. McCormick transferred to Bucknell, but subsequently filed a suit against the Dresdales and against Brown; the suit was settled out of court.
Now the Brown Spectator--with considerable original reporting--has laid out the most comprehensive coverage to date of the case. In a searing, 3,279-word article, Spectator editor Ryan Fleming uses interviews and documents from the since-settled lawsuit to try to piece together what happened in a case that had no witnesses and no physical evidence that even Brown's lax standards deemed admissible. The central players in this tale were not Marcella Dresdale or William McCormick but instead various Brown administrators, who all but ceded their authority to Dresdale's father, and the students' Brown-appointed residential counselor.
Fleming's article uses Brown's own reports to show that Marcella Dresdale's story dramatically changed over the course of a week--from an allegation that McCormick was stalking her and behaving creepily to a claim of a violent rape. Dresdale did not seek medical attention after the alleged rape, nor did she file a report with either the campus police or the local police. The Spectator also uncovered fascinating e-mails from students who allegedly witnessed exchanges between Dresdale and McCormick--e-mails that "evolved" in such an awkward fashion that a representative who believed in McCormick's innocence would have had a field day in cross-examination. (One student, Julie Siwicki, simply inserted a damning portrayal of McCormick in between two paragraphs of a previously submitted e-mail that didn't seem to help Dresdale's case.) Perhaps such awkwardness was why Dresdale's father worked so hard, as he told Brown president Ruth Simmons in an e-mail, to avoid a hearing and thereby enable his daughter "and the other students to avoid having to . . . face questioning from [McCormick's] advocate."
Given the above, it might seem that even by the OCR-mandated preponderance-of-evidence standard, McCormick would have been found not guilty. Yet Fleming's article (as well as an older report from The Herald) convincingly suggests the opposite--that if a hearing had taken place, McCormick quite likely would have been found guilty, in no small part because of the role of the students' residential counselor, another Brown undergraduate named Shane Reil. Reil's role shows how easily college judicial processes can be corrupted--at least if the corruption conforms to the preexisting ideological or financial interests of the college administration.
A bit from Fleming's terrific piece:
Perhaps the most destructive misconduct that deans committed was concealing evidence from McCormick and his advocate Burch. In the entire rape case, there was only one piece of supposed evidence against McCormick: a pair of ripped boxers. Beth Dresdale claimed to have the pair of boxers that she was wearing when McCormick allegedly ripped them off and proceed to rape her. This being the one and only alleged piece of physical evidence in the entire case, Burch rightfully asked to see it in order to examine it for finger prints and DNA -- anything to help determine McCormick's innocence. The deans refused. In an email from Terry Addison, dated Sept. 25 he said, "The boxer shorts will not be entered as material evidence. References to the shorts in witness statements will not be stricken" i.e. witnesses can still claim that the boxers were ripped off. In an email to Spectator editor Ryan Fleming dated May 3, 2012, Ward wrote, "If there is a question about sexual activity, any reasonable evidence to help determine the truth would be admissible and reviewed by both the complainant and respondent." That, unfortunately, does not appear to be a right afforded to William McCormick.
...A case like this seems like an anomaly. It cannot be too often that a university like Brown is seemingly willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of one of its students simply to protect their endowment funds. Unfortunately, there is evidence that Brown's actions in the McCormick case may have been the rule, not the exception.
In September 2009, just three years after the McCormick incident, there was another eerily similar case. A student, who wishes to remain anonymous, approached Michael Burch -- who was known for advocating on behalf of McCormick -- seeking help after being accused of sexual assault.
The student dated the daughter of another wealthy member of a private equity firm throughout the 2008 school year until they had a tumultuous break-up during the summer of 2009. After the break-up, the daughter allegedly filed a sexual assault complaint with Brown Police but told them not to process it. Then the student claimed that he was indirectly warned by a Brown police officer that there was a potential charge against him. Upon learning this, the male student contacted Michael Burch asking for help.
At Burch's suggestion, he filed a slander charge against the female student. However, for nearly three months neither Burch nor the male student knew if there was an official complaint filed against him. They claim to have repeatedly visited, called, and emailed Brown Department of Public Safety, Jonah Ward, and Margaret Klawunn asking if there was an official charge, but they never received a clear answer.
After months of asking, Brown officials finally told the male student that a formal complaint was never filed against him. He claimed that he was advised by the university to not proceed with his complaint and let both charges fade away since he was graduating later that year.
On some campuses, it's now enough to be male and accused to be deemed guilty of a crime.